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Ontario provincial park closed 'until further notice' due to land claim demonstration

Park officials drive by a trailer left by the entrance to Pinery Provincial Park near Grand Bend, Ont. on Friday, Nov. 10, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Dave Chidley

Park officials drive by a trailer left by the entrance to Pinery Provincial Park near Grand Bend, Ont. on Friday, Nov. 10, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Dave Chidley

A southwestern Ontario provincial park has been closed to the public after demonstrators set up a trailer at the front gate in support of what police said was a land claim.

The trailer was parked at the entrance to Pinery Provincial Park, located on the shores of Lake Huron, and a few people were peacefully demonstrating, provincial police said Friday morning.

OPP Sgt. Dave Rektor said the demonstration was related to a "land claims issue that is before the courts."

The park has been the site of land claim protests in the past. It is also not far from Camp Ipperwash, where a land claim demonstration turned deadly in 1995.

Park officials issued a statement Thursday saying a decision was made to close the park "until further notice" after the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry received notice of intention to blockade the park.

"Ontario Parks will continue talks with the individuals in an effort to resolve the matter," the park statement said, noting that until then, the park is closed to the public for camping and day use.

"Public safety remains our first priority and will guide our operation of the park," the statement added.

A spokeswoman for the Ministry of Natural Resources said the situation involves a few individuals, not a specific group.

"We have had numerous discussions with the individuals since mid-October," Karen Passmore said Friday. "The individuals claim Pinery Provincial Park is rightfully theirs, however no documentation has been shared which provides a foundation for this claim."

Rektor said a police liaison team would be working with all involved to resolve the issue.

"We respect everybody's right to demonstrate, we just ask everybody remains respectful," he said, noting that police were keeping an eye on the situation.

The park near Grand Bend, Ont., boasts about 10 kilometres of sand beach along Lake Huron and 21 square kilometres of forests and rolling dunes.

Monte McNaughton, the legislator for Lambton-Kent-Middlesex, the provincial riding where the park is located, said he visited the Pinery on Friday morning to talk with staff. There were no protesters present at the time of his visit, he added.

McNaughton has urged the government to deal with the situation since 2014 and believes this latest issue is linked to a demonstrator who has made a past claim on the park.

"There's still a vacant trailer in the park from 2014 and nothing has been done about that," he said. "Certainly, the longer this goes on the more challenges the government and the people will face down the road. This is an individual acting (and not) the local band council."

McNaughton said staff have told him the park will be closed until at least Nov. 20.

"I think it's reasonable to think park administration and the OPP should properly and fairly enforce the laws and ensure that that park is open immediately," he said. "Residents and families in Lambton Shores and across the province who want to use it deserve to use the park."

An Aboriginal family led by demonstrator Maynard T. George has made several attempts to "repossess" Pinery Provincial Park in past years, saying the land belongs to approximately 100 of his great-grandfather's descendants.

In 2004, then Ontario attorney general Michael Bryant told the legislature that George's claim was "an individual grievance" and not a land claim.

Bryant noted that the First Nations in the area — Kettle and Stony Point First Nation — had said that they didn't endorse the grievance and that they have no land claim at Pinery.

Pinery Park is near Camp Ipperwash, where a land claim demonstration turned deadly in 1995 when a police sniper killed Dudley George — no relation to Maynard George — during a raid on the protesters' camp.

The Chippewas of Kettle and Stony Point First Nation approved the deal with the federal government in 2015 to settle that claim.

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